It’s that festive time of year, where we are all attending both personal and professional holiday events. If you are like most people, you may be faced with keeping a conversation going with someone you don’t know very well. In addition to watching the alcohol consumption, I have a few tricks up my sleeve for these events, including some strategies to engage with folks and even enjoy these events.
In general, it is important to look the part at these events. A close second is to be comfortable. And, a good rule of thumb is to be a little bit over-dressed if you are not sure. In general, a suit is a great idea, with or without a tie, or a dress is a flexible choice.
Most of all, look to be inclusive. Try to keep your body language open and welcome newcomers into your conversation. Once you make eye contact, a simple “Hi, I’m Harper!” will break the ice. Then you can introduce the newcomer to the group you are in.
Have a few conversation starters up your sleeve. I always try to have an interesting (non-political) current event to discuss, as well as a tidbit about a home sports team or two. You may find that you don’t end up discussing either topic directly, but it can elicit where someone went to college or perhaps an experience they had related to the area or current event topic.
Also, there are several perennial icebreaker questions that work well in any networking or social situation, and all are predicated on the notion that people always like to talk about themselves. Here are some to keep handy:
- How do you know the host? / What is your connection to the sponsor?
- How are you spending your time these days? (This is a good one, because it doesn’t put someone on the spot if they are between jobs, ill, et cetera.)
- Do you have any plans for the upcoming weekend/holiday?
- Any favorite podcasts or social accounts?
These are tried and true and should get you through a good 10 minutes or more of a 1:1 conversation – more if you are in a group. Remember to keep the phrasing of the questions open ended, so that you don’t get a one word, dead end answer.
Last, but not least, remember your manners. Hold doors, use table manners, don’t interrupt, and be sure to thank your host or the person who brought you to the event. No one wants to be that “rude person.”
A little thought and preparation going into an event can make the entire experience much more relaxing, and even enjoyable. Plus, you never know when you are going to make that next great connection.